Review: PlayStation Vita – The Console
Product: PlayStation Vita
Price: $249.99 WiFi Only / $299.99 3G + WiFi
This review is based on the Japanese Wi-Fi unit, so obviously I don’t have the AR Cards that are included in the US. We’ll report on those later
The Vita – OS and Interface
The Vita is a sexy piece of hardware. From the second analog stick, to the obviously enormous amount of power internally, and the luscious 5-inch OLED screen, it’s obvious that the designers listened to what gamers AND developers want in a portable system. I apologize now for what will probably be something that’s too long and meanders all over the place
The interface is very-much like a mobile phone. The primary screen layout is vertical, and you can even customize the background of each of the screens with a picture or different color. When you open an app, it opens to that Game/App’s “LiveArea” where you then launch from. The LiveArea is actually pretty cool, as it will change depending on if there’s something like new DLC, or in the PSN Store’s case, New Releases that have hit that particular week. This is also where you would access the manual for a game or app, all easily accessed via the touchscreen.
No matter what you may be in, at any time you can press the PlayStation button which immediately pauses whatever you’re in and pulls back to the main interface. You’ll find out quickly that you can actually have a few different things running in the background, all accesible to the right of the main interface. There are a couple of limitations though. First, you can only have ONE game in the multitasking mix. Basically, the multitasking is limited a bit when a game is running, when it’s not, you’d be surprised at how much you can have running at the same time.
Another function of the PlayStation button is to pull-up a quick interface while in-game. Options in this screen include muting the microphone, adjusting the music volume if using a custom soundtrack, choosing to prioritize Party Chat over in-game chat, and adjusting the screen brightness. Yes, as you just saw, the Vita supports custom soundtracks in the hardware. At any time, just hit the PlayStation button, open the Music app, and start playing. The one unfortunate thing is a complete lack of playlist support, which is pretty confusing.
For video things are pretty effortless, although the amount of supported formats and codecs is pretty limited. Compatible file types include:
– MPEG-4 Simple Profile Level 3, Maximum 320 x 240 pixels, AAC
– H.264/MPEG-4 AVC Baseline/High/Main Profile Level 3.1, Maximum 720p, AAC
Pretty limited right? The good news is that .mp4 has become a decently universal format. It’s what we use for any video that we produce, and the files that I’ve tested have looked incredible on the Vita’s screen. To copy the files to the Vita, you either need to use the Content Manager on a PC or PS3 (coming soon for the Mac too) which interfaces with the Vita. You control everything on the Vita though, and have many options for copying Video, Audio, Applications, and Images to or from the Vita. Also included is a backup utility that allows backup and restore of your Vita to the PC or PS3. What isn’t managed in this app is your save files though. Honestly, after a lot of searching, I dont see any way to get your save files off of the Vita except by using the full backup function. It would’ve been nice to be able to leverage my PlayStation Plus account or to have a backup function simply for my save files. This is kind-of a big oversight, and is one of my only complaints with the OS.
In terms of resolution, I have 720p videos loaded now and they run flawlessly, but I do think that’s the limit. When accessing videos on the Store, only SD videos are made available, and in Content Manager, 1080p videos that I have on the hard drive don’t even appear in the “videos available” list within the app. I’ll have to do some more testing, and this may change after the 22nd, but I doubt it. Honestly though, even 480p videos look excellent. The pixel density on the OLED screen compensates for a lot, and the deep color palette helps too.
Using the Store to rent or buy videos is as simple as it is on the PS3, and since you’re using your normal PSN account, it all ties together. The nice thing is that your Vita can be activated for Video along with your PS3, so now you have 2 Video devices on your account. The store itself is made just for the Vita, so you don’t have to scroll all over to find specific content any more. The interface is clean, efficient, and easy to navigate, except for the download list. The list is your full list, so all of your combined purchases are there, and you plan on downloading multiple items, be ready to get frustrated. Once you find your first item and choose to download it, the list resets and goes back to the top. Yeah, not a good design, but it does at least work. Other than that, navigation is really good, and pretty fast too.
Trophies are also handled via a standalone app. When launched, it will automatically sync with the servers, as it would on the PS3. One great design decision was that they let you choose to look at all of your accumulated trophies, or touch another tab to view only the trophies earned on the Vita. Very nice organization.
The Maps application works pretty well, and uses Google Maps at its core. I have a Wi-Fi unit, so I don’t have connectivity or a GPS for use on the road. It will get location data from nearby Wi-Fi networks in my area, but with the small town that I live in, that’s spotty at best.
The web browser is another point of contention for sure. Early reports indicated full HTML5 support, for sites like Youtube etc. Unfortunately, my tests show very limited functionality in its current state. GMail doesn’t really work at all after the initial load-up, and Youtube doesn’t work at all. The only two choices are Flash, which the Vita doesn’t have, and HTML5, which isn’t being detected by Youtube at all. The good news, beside the embedded videos, PSNation.org works perfectly!
What you will notice no matter where you are or what you’re doing, is that the OS and interface are incredibly snappy, even with multiple apps running while a game is paused in the background. When you switch back into a game, it’s instantaneous, no loading from memory, no pauses, no hesitation. On top of that, at any time while in a game, if you need to avert your gaze from the Vita, hit the PlayStation button, and the game instantly pauses with no penalty. The entire package is so incredibly intuitive and easy to use, without any type of clutter at all. When a LiveArea is updated, you’ll see a notification in the upper-right. A simple tap takes you right to that LiveArea so you can check it out. This is also your one-stop for any other notifications as well, be it PSN messages, trophies earned, or LiveArea updates.
Every screen, including the unlock screen when you hit the power button, is customizable. So, for each screen that you can flip to, you can change either the background color, or use a picture, be it a photo you take or a wallpaper file that you’ve loaded to the system. These screens cal also be moved around vertically, so if you want to group specific games or apps, you have quite a bit of freedom. Each screen holds 10 icons, and even those can each be moved to where ever you want. As on most smartphones, just tap and hold on the screen to enter into edit mode. For setting a background, go to your Pictures app, tap on a photo, and select to use it as the Lock Screen or as a background. Speaking of the lock screen, when you press the power button, there is about a 2-second delay before the screen turns on. All you have to do is peel the upper-right corner down to the lower-left, and that’s how you close any other app/game after hitting the PlayStation button to get out as well.
You’ll be surprised the first time you hold this beast in your hands. The size is similar to the PSP-1000, as is the weight. The construction is very solid, and the style is sleek and beautiful. On the front, you’ll find the 5-inch OLED screen, 4 face buttons, d-pad on the left, Start and Select buttons, TWO analog sticks, and the PlayStation button. On the back, a touchpad and 2 shoulder buttons (not 4 like on the Dual Shock 3). Also included are front and rear-facing camera. Around the edge, you’ve got the memory card slot on the bottom, and on the top, a slot for game cards and an accessory port, both protected by plastic covers. Power is on the top-left, and audio volume buttons are on the top-right. Overall, a very astute package, and much easier to grip than any of the PSP’s. The battery is not accessible, so don’t expect to buy any more to have on-hand. Fortunately, some 3rd-party external battery packs are coming soon for those that have brutally long flights.
The screen is the showcase of this portable. No picture can show you truly how great it is. Brightness is wonderful, and the color depth is like nothing you’ve ever seen. You’ll never experience any ghosting (well, unless the devs WANT you to) and it’s always easy on the eyes.Even the viewing angle is insane, as you can essentially see what’s on the screen from any direction. Also, lt’s not forget that this is a touchscreen. If you have a smartphone, you’ll know what to expect. It’s very easy to use, very reactive, and is very glossy to allow for easy use. I’ve had the Vita since the end of December without any type of screen protector, and even through some pretty heavy use, it’s easy to clean and seems very resistent to any type of damage.
The analog sticks, the savior of portable gaming in some people’s minds, are great! It might take you a few minutes to get used to the smaller sticks, and the smaller amount of movement, but once you do, you’ll have no problem playing anything with them. As some others have indicated, I was a little worried about the smaller face buttons, but after extensive playtime I can assure you that even my sausage-fingers have no problem with them at all. The d-pad also, is really good. It’s very easy to use and is very responsive.It still uses the cross-design, but it feels a bit more loose than the d-pad on the PSP and Dual Shock 3. I use the d-pad a lot when playing Hot Shots Golf, and I’ve never had a problem with it yet.
So, looking-back on the book that I’ve written above, there’s a lot here. The new community features like the Group Chat and Party system, along with full integration with the PSN make this a console, that in some ways, even surpasses the PlayStation 3. The Vita has a ton of processing power and a plethora of available memory, but I am still disappointed that there’s absolutely no internal storage. The full Vita games vary in size, from 260MB to 3.6GB, and depending on what you load onto the memory card, you can probably fill it up pretty quickly. Luckily, it’s very easy to either download directly from the store or to connect to your PS3 or PC and use the Content Manager to transfer data. Obviously, since I got my Vita from Japan, I didn’t get the 3G version because of service compatibility. Because of that, I can’t really comment on the 3g service, or the GPS functionality. Also, I can launch it, but since no one around here has a Vita, I’ve not been able to actually use “Near” yet.
The fact of the matter is, even with some minor flaws, I love this console. It’s obvious that a lot of time was put into making it easy to use and community-oriented. The power is truly amazing even at launch, with PS3-quality visuals and features. The games aren’t your typical portable fair on average, and instead bring that full console experience to the palms of your hands. Because of the full Bluetooth support, I’ve even ordered a pair of headphones so that I can go truly wireless. To me, the Vita is worth every penny, and with arguably the best lineup of launch titles in console history, you won’t have to wait for things to ramp-up. The Vita can easily become your primary gaming console, and I’m not talking about only portables.